Omicron case numbers have increased significantly over the weekend and, as a result, New Zealand will move to phase two of the three-phase Omicron response at 11:59pm tonight.

In this article, we set out how the move to phase two affects testing and isolation requirements and the mechanisms which employers can use to keep their businesses operating during this phase.


New self-isolation requirements

 Phase two will see isolation periods for both confirmed cases and close contacts shortened.

Confirmed cases must isolate for 10 days, including 72 hours symptom-free.  Household contacts are also required to isolate for 10 days.  The 10-day isolation period is intended to run concurrently with any confirmed case.

Close contacts must now isolate for 7 days.  A PCR test is required to be performed on day 5.

Casual contacts are not required to isolate.   Casual contacts are asked to monitor COVID-19 symptoms for 10 days.   If symptoms develop, the individual is required to be tested and isolate until they receive a negative test result.

Rapid Antigen Tests

 Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) will have increased availability at phase two, particularly for those working in health care and other critical services.  Individuals will need a PCR test to confirm any positive RAT result.

The Director General of Health, Dr Bloomfield, indicated that health officials were working on a new RAT strategy, but he has been unable to provide a date when New Zealanders will be able to buy RATs from supermarkets or pharmacies.

Bubble of one for workers who are close contacts

 From phase two, a business may have a worker who is a close contact on-site if this worker is not customer facing, and can maintain a ‘bubble of one’ while at work (including travel to and from work).  They are not required to use RATs.  The business will not be required to register the ‘bubble of one’ worker.

To qualify, the worker must be:

  • Fully vaccinated;
  • Asymptomatic; and
  • Able to maintain an individual ‘bubble of one’ while at work (whether indoors or outdoors).

At work, the worker must:

  • Comply with all COVID-19 control protocols;
  • Use a medical mask at all times (including wearing a medical mask before entry to the workplace, and changing as needed during the day);
  • Work in a defined indoor or outdoor space with no others present in that space.  A defined indoor space is one that does not share direct airflow with another indoor space;
  • Travel solo, to, from and around work or between jobs (the worker cannot use public transport);
  • Eat alone in a well-ventilated space, outdoors where possible;
  • Use a dedicated bathroom (if this is not possible, no others should be present in the bathroom while the worker is using it); and
  • Follow the public advice for close contacts if symptoms develop.

At home, the worker must self-isolate (as required for close contacts), and be tested, as applicable.

Return to work regime

 Under phase two, New Zealand will introduce a return-to-work regime for workers in critical services.   Exempted businesses will be able to allow workers to skip COVID-19 isolation requirements if they return daily negative RATs.   Critical services include food production, key public services such as health and emergency services, lifeline utilities such as power and water supplies, transport, critical financial services, news media and social welfare.  It also includes human and animal health and welfare.

This regime seems to already be very popular with 5600 businesses self-identifying as having critical workforces and needing access to the test-to-work scheme.

Please contact us if you wish to seek specific advice about how the transition to phase two might affect your workplace, how you can help minimise and manage workplace interruptions over the next few months or any other COVID-19 employment-related questions.